Monthly Focus

May 2021

The following is taken from Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program To End Negative Behaviour And Feel Great Again” by Jeffrey E. Young, Ph.D, founder of Schema Therapy.


What are Lifetraps?

A lifetrap (Schema) is a pattern that starts in childhood and reverberates throughout life. It began with something that was done to us by our families or by othe children. We are abandoned, criticized, overprotected, abused, excluded, or deprived—we were damaged in some way. Eventually the lifetrap becomes part of us. Long after we leave the home we grew up in, we continue to create situations in which we are mistreated, ignored, put down, or controlled and in which we fail to reach our most desired goals.

Lifetraps determine how we feel think, feel, act, and relate to others. They trigger strong feelings such as anger, sadness, and anxiety. Even when we appear to have everything—social status, an ideal marriage, the respect of people close to us, career success—we are often unable to savor life or believe in our accomplishments. 


This month’s focus is the Unrelenting Standards Schema.


Table of Contents



The Unrelenting Standards Lifetrap


The Unrelenting Standards Questionnaire

Fill out this questionnaire to measure the strength of your Unrelenting Standards lifetrap. Use the following scale.


  1. Completely untrue of me
  2. Mostly untrue of me
  3. Slightly more true than untrue of me
  4. Moderately true of me
  5. Mostly true of me
  6. Describes me perfectly


If you have any 5’s or 6’s on this questionnaire, this lifetrap may still apply to you, even if your score is in the low range.



  1. I cannot accept second best. I have to be the best at most of what I do.
  2. Nothing I do is quite good enough.
  3. I strive to keep everything in perfect order.
  4. I must look my best at all times.
  5. I have so much to accomplish that I have no time to relax.
  6. My personal relationships suffer because I push myself so hard.
  7. My health suffers because I put myself under so much pressure.
  8. I deserve strong criticism when I make a mistake.
  9. I am very competitive.
  10. Wealth and status are very important to me.

Add your scores together for questions 1-10


Interpreting Your Unrelenting Standards Score


     10-19 Very low. This lifetrap probably does not apply to you.

     20-29 Fairly low. This lifetrap may only apply occasionally.

     30-39 Moderate. This lifetrap is an issue in your life.

     40-49 High. This is definitely an important liferap for you.

     50-60 Very high. This is definitely one of your core lifetraps.



The Experience of Unrelenting Standards


The primary feeling is pressure. You can never relax and enjoy your life. You are always pushing, pushing, to get ahead. You fight to be the best at whatever you do, whether it is school, work, sports, hobbies, dating, or sex. You have to have the best house, the best car, the best job, make the most money, and look the most handsome or beautiful. You have to be perfectly creative and perfectly organized.


The name of the lifetrap is from the point of view of the outside observer. It as we, not the patients, who felt their standards were unrelenting. To them, it was just a normal level of trying to achieve. People who have the Unrelenting Standards lifetrap are usually successful at whatever they do, but this success is from the point of view of other people. Other people think that you have achieved a lot, but you take your achievements for granted. They are only what you have expected of yourself.


Physical stress symptoms, such as irritable bowel and headaches, are common. You might have high blood pressure, ulcers, colitis, insomnia, fatigue, panic attacks, heart arrhythmias, obesity, back pain, skin problems, arthritis, asthma, or any number of other physical problems.


For you, life is only doing. Life is having to work or achieve all the time. You are always straining at the edge of your limits. There is never a chance to take a break, to stop and enjoy things. Everything, including activities that could be enjoyable, such as games or swimming, becomes an ordeal.


Unrelenting Standards can create the full gamut of negative emotions. You feel constantly frustrated and irritated with yourself for not meeting your standards. You may feel chronically angry, and certainly you feel high levels of anxiety. You obsess about the next thing you have to do right. A major focus of your anxiety is time: You have so much to do and so little time. You are always aware of the time and feel a constant sense of time pressure. And you can feel depressed at the grimness of your life and at the emptiness of what you have achieved.


You might ask why you continue to push yourself this way. As exhausted as you are, instead of slowing down, you accelerate, taking on more and more responsibility. It is as though you believe that one of the things you do is finally going to bring you satisfaction. You do not realize that the way you approach everything makes genuine pleasure impossible. Inevitably, whatever you try to accomplish takes on that same cast, that same heavy feeling of pressure.


You believe in the possibility of success–that if you keep striving you can actually achieve that wonderful state of perfection. Although you probably do not consider yourself truly successful, you feel that you are improving, getting closer to your goal. This sense of progress keeps you going. You imagine an end to the road, when you can finally relax and enjoy life. You fantasize about some future time when you will be released.


But that state of peace that you hope to find at the end of your striving never comes. Even if it did, you would just find something else, some other relentless standard to meet. This is how your lifetrap reinforces itself. At your core, you are not comfortable unless you are striving. It may not make you happy, but it is familiar. It is the devil you know.


There are at least three common variants of the Unrelenting Standards lifetrap. You may be more than one type–you may be all three, in fact.



Three Types of Unrelenting Standards


  1. Compulsivity
  2. Achievement Orientation
  3. Status Orientation



The compulsive is the person who keeps everything in perfect order. You are the type who attends to every detail no matter how slight, who fears making any mistake no matter how minor. You feel frustrated and upset when things are not just right.


Achievement Orientation

This is the so-called workaholic. You are the person who works sixteen-hour days, seven days a week. You place an excessive value on a high level of achievement at the expense of your others needs. You have to be the best.


It is important to distinguish the Unrelenting Standards from the Failure lifetrap. Failure is the sense that you have failed relative to your peers, that you are below average. Unrelenting Standards is the sense that you are at least average, but that you are constantly striving to meet very high, perfectionistic standards. The person with the Failure lifetrap will attempt a task and then think, “I can’t do anything right, I messed it up.” The person with Unrelenting Standards will attempt that task and think, “I did okay, but I could do better.”

The Unrelenting Standards lifetrap can sometimes lead to a sense of failure. If your unrelenting standards are so high that you cannot come close to meeting them, then you may begin to feel incompetent, a failure. It may be that you fall so short of your goals that you feel you have not achieved anything at all.


Status Orientation

Status orientation is an excessive emphasis on gaining recognition, status, wealth, beauty–a false self. It is often a form of Counterattack, to compensate for core feelings of Defectiveness or Social Exclusion.

If you have an excessive Status Orientation, you never feel good enough, no matter what you do. You tend to be self-unitive, or to feel ashamed, when you fail to meet your high expectations. You are caught in an endless struggle to amass more and more power, money, or prestige, yet it is never enough to make you feel good about yourself.



The Origins of Unrelenting Standards


  1. Your parents’ love for you was conditional on your meeting high standards.
  2. One or both parents were models of high, unbalanced standards.
  3. Your Unrelenting Standards developed as a way to compensate for feelings of defectiveness, social exclusion, deprivation, or failure.
  4. One or both parents used shame or criticism when you failed to meet high expectations.



Unrelenting Standards Lifetraps


  1. Your health is suffering because of daily stresses, such as over-work–not only because of unavoidable life events.
  2. The balance between work and pleasure feels lopsided. Life feels like constant pressure and work without fun.
  3. Your whole life seems to revolve around success, status, and materials things. You seem to have lost touch with your basic self and no longer know what really makes you happy.
  4. Too much of your energy goes into keeping your life in order. You spend too much time keeping lists, organizing your life, planning, cleaning, and repairing, and not enough time being creative or letting go.
  5. Your relationships with other people are suffering because so much time goes into meeting your own standards–working, being successful, etc.
  6. You make other people feel inadequate or nervous around you because they worry about not being able to meet your high expectations of them.
  7. You rarely stop and enjoy success. You rarely savor a sense of accomplishment. Rather, you simply go on to the next task waiting for you.
  8. You feel overwhelmed because you are trying to accomplish so much; there never seems to be enough time to complete what you have started.
  9. Your standards are so high that you view many activities as obligations or ordeals to get through, instead of enjoying the process itself.
  10. You procrastinate a lot. Because your standards make many tasks feel overwhelming, you avoid them.
  11. You feel irritated or frustrated a lot because things and people around you do not meet your high standards.


The basic problem with Unrelenting Standards is that you lose touch with your natural self. You are so focused on order, achievement, or status that you do not attend to your basic physical, emotional, and social needs. Things like love, family, friendship, creativity, and fun–the things that make life worth living–take a back seat to your obsessive quest for perfection. Your Unrelenting Standards are costing you a a great deal. You are foregoing many opportunities for happiness and fulfillment in your life.


Your reward is a measure of success. In whatever arena you have chose to perfect yourself, you are probably one of the best. If we go to the top of any organization, the chances are good of finding someone with Unrelenting Standards. Who else would be willing to sacrifice so many other parts of their life? If you read interviews with famous people, you constantly hear about their perfectionism, their dedication, their attention to detail, how they drive themselves and other people.


However, you do not stop to enjoy your success. When one thing I accomplished, you simply shift focus to the next thing, rendering the thing you just accomplished meaningless. And sometimes your success is meaningless. This is when you are perfectionistic about trivial things. Does it really matter in the larger scheme that your kitchen drawers are perfectly organized or that your children’s rooms are perfectly neat? Does it matter that your date is the best-looking person in the room, or that you are the best dressed? Does it matter that you got a 99 instead of a 100?


Your intimate relationships almost certainly suffer. You may want the perfect partner and be unable to settle for less.


Once you are in a relationship, you can be extremely critical and demanding. You expect other people (especially those closest to you, like your spouse or children) to live up to your standards. And without realizing it, you probably devalue them for not meeting the standards you set. Of course, because these standards do not seem high to you, you feel that your expectations are not normal and justified.


You may be attracted to perfectionistic partners who have their own Unrelenting Standards, or you may be attracted to partners who are the opposite, relaxed and easygoing. You might choose someone who offsets your pressured life–who brings to your life all the things you have lost. This kind of relationship can become your one avenue of relief and enjoyment.


You probably have little time left to spend with the people you love. If you are single, you neglect your friends and lovers; if you are married, you neglect your family. You just do not have the time. You are too busy working, or putting the house in order, or advancing your status. You keep thinking that the time will come when you can relax and find a partner or spend time with your spouse and children. Meanwhile life slips by, and your emotional life is empty.


When you do spend time with the people you love, you are apt to do so in that same pressured, relentless way.


Unrelenting Standards are passed down through generations in this way. Your parents give them to you, and you give them to your children. Even your time with your children is spend pushing. You do not stop to appreciate them. This deprives you of pleasure and contributes to their unhappiness.


It is not unusual for someone with this lifetrap to take on a large project, then become paralyzed and unable to get started. The procrastinator is often someone with Unrelenting Standards. The level at which you expect to perform is so high that it is overwhelming. The more invested you are in a project, the more likely it is that you will put it off. At some point, you may even collapse and stop functioning. You just cannot stand the thought of having to meet hose expectations again.


Because of your Unrelenting Standards, you rarely feel content. The dogged pursuit of your standards destroys your chances of positive feelings like love, peace, happiness, pride, or relaxation. Instead, you feel irritation, frustration, disappointment, and, of course, pressure. It is time for you to wake up to what your standards are costing you. It is really worth it?



Changing Unrelenting Standards


  1. List the areas in which your standards may be unbalanced or unrelenting.
  2. List the advantages of trying to meet these standards on a daily basis.
  3. List the disadvantages of pushing to hard in these areas.
  4. Try to conjure an image of what your life would be like without these pressures.
  5. Understand the origins of your lifetrap.
  6. Consider what the effects would be if you lowered your standards about 25 percent.
  7. Try to quantify the time you devote to maintaining your standards.
  8. Try to determine what reasonable standards are by getting a consensus or objective opinion from people who seem more balanced.
  9. Gradually try to change your schedule or alter your behavior in order to get your deeper needs met.